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Spotted Owl: Denizen of old-growth forests and steep-sided canyons

Two Mexican Spotted Owls look down from a canyon in Utah. Photo by Amie Smith/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Two Mexican Spotted Owls look down from a canyon in Utah. Photo by Amie Smith/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Readers of BirdWatching in early 2013 voted Spotted Owl the sixth most-wanted bird in the United States and Canada. Here’s what you need to know to add it to your life list.

Description, range, and population

DESCRIPTION. Large, dark-eyed owl. Brown, spotted on breast. Color darkest in the Northwest and palest in the Southwest. (ABA Code 2)

RANGE. Southwestern British Columbia to central and southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, western Texas, and eastern and central Mexico.

POPULATION. No current data. Surveys in the 1990s counted at least 12,400 individuals total. Northern and Mexican Spotted Owl subspecies are listed as threatened; a third subspecies, California Spotted Owl, is not listed.

View a real-time eBird map

Viewing locations

BRITISH COLUMBIA: Mountain View Wildlife Conservation and Breeding Centre (captive owls for reintroduction program may be visible during guided tours, late April through October)

WASHINGTON: Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier National Parks

OREGON: Mount Hood, Willamette, Fremont-Winema, and Deschutes National Forests, Elliott State Forest, Sweet Creek Falls

CALIFORNIA: Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Klamath National Forest, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks, and William Heise County Park

NEW MEXICO: Gila and Cibola National Forests

ARIZONA: Grand Canyon National Park, Mount Graham, Mount Lemmon, and Cave Creek, Miller, and Scheelite Canyons

UTAH: Zion and Canyonlands National Parks

TEXAS: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Davis Mountains Preserve


High Lonesome Birdtours: Arizona Owls and Neotropical Specialties, July 13-20, 2013, July 12-19, 2014; Arizona: New Year’s Eve at Ramsey Canyon Inn, December 28, 2013-January 2, 2014

Wings: Arizona: Second Spring, July 29-August 8, 2013; A Winter Week in Southeastern Arizona, February 1-8, 2014

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours co-sponsored by the American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics: Camp Chiricahua, for birders ages 14-18, August 6-17, 2013, and July 30-August 10, 2014

Partnership for International Birding: Southeast Arizona Birding Spring Spectacular with Norm Lewis, April 13-20, 2014

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours: Spring Grand Arizona, May 10, 2014

Tours to watch for


Field Guides: Arizona Nightbirds and More

Wings: Arizona: Owls and Warblers

Field Guides: Arizona’s Second Spring

Naturalist Journeys: Owling Outings


Wings West Birding: Chloride Canyon and Ladder Ranch

Naturalist Journeys: Owling Outings

About our poll

We wanted to know, and you told us.

Earlier this year, we published a list of 240 bird species that occur in the United States and Canada and asked readers of BirdWatching magazine to choose the 10 that they wanted to see most.

We derived our list from the authoritative ABA Checklist. We included all rare, casual, and accidental species (ABA Checklist Codes 3, 4, and 5); regularly occurring North American species that are not widespread (Codes 1 and 2); and one species that was once dangerously close to extinction but today is surviving in captivity and struggling to become naturally re-established (Code 6). We omitted most species not native to North America.

Nearly 900 of our readers participated. Their 10 most-wanted birds include three owls, a handful of endangered species, a clown-faced puffin, a blue-footed seabird that is rarely spotted in the United States, and America’s one and only condor.

We presented the 10 most-wanted birds in the August 2013 issue of BirdWatching. Our article included not only the descriptions, population info, and eBird maps above but also 10 things you didn’t know about each species.

Originally Published

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